Taylor Wilson / Nebraska Medicine / Getty Images

Nearly half of US adults worry local hospitals can't handle Ebola

As virus continues to spread in West Africa, study suggests lack of confidence in US capacity to treat domestic cases

Just weeks after a Texas emergency room blundered and sent an Ebola patient home with just antibiotics, almost half of Americans don't think their local hospitals can safely handle a patient suffering from the virus, a poll has indicated. 

But with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent announcement that the Ebola virus has killed 4,877 people around the world, American still have some confidence that the U.S. health care system as a whole will prevent Ebola from spreading in this country, according to the Associated Press-GfK survey released Thursday.

The online poll of more than 1,600 U.S. adults suggests that nearly a quarter of Americans are very confident the U.S. health care system could prevent Ebola from spreading and 40 percent are moderately confident. But nearly half don't think their local hospitals could safely treat an Ebola case and 31 percent are only moderately confident that it could.

After all, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., was mistakenly sent home by a Dallas emergency room, only to return far sicker a few days later. Then, two nurses caring for him somehow became infected. The family of one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, said Wednesday doctors no longer could detect Ebola in her as of Tuesday evening.

Asked how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) handled those cases, 42 percent of people disapproved and 22 percent approved.

'Crisis of two things'

Despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don't really understand how it spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

Ebola doesn't spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren't contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person's bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

People who say they do understand are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don't understand it as well.

Likewise, a third of those with more knowledge of Ebola are confident in the health system's ability to stem an outbreak, and 27 percent think their local hospital could safely treat it. Among those who don't understand Ebola, fewer than 1 in 5 shares either confidence.

"It seems to me we have a crisis of two things. We have a crisis of science, and either people don't understand it or ... they don't believe it," said Dr. Joseph McCormick, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas School of Public Health, and he added, "We have a crisis in confidence in government."

Mulling solutions

A whopping 93 percent of people said they think training of doctors and nurses at local hospitals is necessary to deal with Ebola, with nearly all of them (78 percent) deeming it a definite need.

Nine out of 10 also think it's necessary to tighten screening of people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone, including 69 percent who say that's definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it's definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it's probably necessary to do so.

More than 8 in 10 Americans favor sending medical aid to Ebola-stricken countries and increasing government funding to develop vaccines and treatments.

WHO said on Wednesday that the spread of the lethal virus remains "persistent and widespread" in West Africa, and that there have been 9,936 probable, suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It said transmission rates remains "intense" in the capital cities and that cases continue to be underreported.

The CDC had issued safe-care guidelines to hospitals long before Duncan arrived last month, and it made some changes this week after the unexpected nurse infections. Now, the CDC says hospitals should use full-body garb and hoods and follow rigorous rules in removing the equipment to avoid contamination, with a site manager supervising. Possibly more important, workers should repeatedly practice the donning and doffing and prove they can do it correctly before being allowed near any future patients.

While Duncan wasn't contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they're checked before leaving those countries.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They'll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That's not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, doctors, workers for aid organizations and journalists.

The Associated Press

Related News


Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter



Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter